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I was in a flight recently (march 22nd) from SBCF to SBGR (Brazil). It's usually a 1h10m flight, but mine took roughly 20 minutes more. I saw the flight path in FlightAware and there's an unexpected (to me) detour mid-flight:

enter image description here

I looked for other instances of this scheduled flight and there are more extreme cases, such as this one:

enter image description here

In this case, the actual flight distance was 833km whereas the straight-line distance is measly 496km.

Obviously it would be difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why this happened, but what factors could lead to taking such a different than expected route?

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  • $\begingroup$ The top picture appears to be a large S-turn, designed to slow down one airplane to increase spacing between it and the one in front of it. Air Traffic Control needs airplanes to remain a certain minimum distance apart for safety. $\endgroup$ – abelenky Apr 1 at 14:04
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There are lots of reasons flights may not take a direct route, some are but not limited to:

  • It's just the route ATC assigned (for whatever reason they see fit)
  • There is an active military operations area or live firing area they are avoiding, these are not always "active" and may be avoided only sometimes.
  • Some kind of natural event on the ground, wildfire, volcanic eruption, etc.
  • There is a TFR they can't get through these are typically not hard bans on overflight but can be.
  • If it's an international flight they may not be allowed to overfly the airspace.
  • For smaller aircraft it may be a terrain avoidance issue (generally this is for general aviation sized planes).
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  • $\begingroup$ Can it be for viewing nice spots? I was in a flight from Paris to Antananarivo back in June, and the pilots clearly took a detour to pass right next to Mount Kilimanjaro. They headed in straight line from Paris to Kilimanjaro, and then in straight line from Kilimanjaro to Antananarivo. It was so obvious by looking at the interactive map, I just couldn't imagine it was for another reason than having a nice view. The coincidence would have been too great IMO. $\endgroup$ – Jim Aug 8 at 14:24
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In both examples, the aircraft was crossing the direct path between origin and destination, sometimes even flying perpendicular to the direct line. It would take more than one obstacle (like severe weather) to explain these patterns.

It is very likely that the pilots were deliberately delaying their arrival with respect to traffic congestion at the destination. See Why did this plane fly in a zigzag pattern?.

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You say it was 'clear weather' but do you have anything to back that up other that what you saw outside the window? The pilots know what's ahead of them and it could be your smooth ride was down to their avoiding some heayy stuff. They could've seen some bad weather on their weather radar or maybe a pilot ahead alerted them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Even if the weather actually is clear, there's always clear air turbulence if you want to make things interesting... $\endgroup$ – a CVn Apr 1 at 11:10

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